Native American Warriors Honored With Memorial

American Indians have served per capita in greater numbers than any other ethnic group.

Navajo Code Talkers salute at parade.
Mario Tama / Getty Images

American Indians have served per capita in greater numbers than any other ethnic group.

It was announced yesterday that a memorial honoring the more than 156,000 active military service members and veterans who are Native Americans and Alaska Natives will open next year in Washington.

The steel and stone structure, called the “Warriors’ Circle of Honor,” will be built outside the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian on the National Mall.

The structure will be a 12-foot tall, stainless steel circle balanced on a carved, stone drum.

“The circle represents the hole in the sky where the creator lives,” designer Harvey Pratt told the Washington Post. “The memorial is meant to be a place of gathering, remembrance, healing and reflection.”

Harvey Pratt is Cheyenne and Arapaho. He was selected to design the memorial after a nationwide competition, and served three years in Vietnam as a Marine.

The Washington Post reported that plans for the $15 million memorial has been in the works for years. A groundbreaking ceremony is set for September, followed by a dedication on Veterans Day in November 2020, when the memorial will open to the public.

American Indians serve in greater numbers than any other ethnic group, wrote Kevin Gover, a Pawnee and director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, for the Huffington Post.

According to Gover, American Indians have served with distinction in every major conflict for over 200 years.

Before they were recognized as citizens, they served in World I, and they served in World War II even though were still not allowed to vote, he wrote.

Twenty-seven Native Americans have been awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military honor.

Native American code talkers proved instrumental in sending sensitive messages in World War II. Approximately 400-500 Native American marines used their knowledge of their ancestral language to transmit secret tactical messages. The Navajo code talkers received no recognition until the declassification of the operation in 1968, according to the CIA.

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Navajo Code Talkers at Veteran's Day Parade.
  Mario Tama / Getty Images

Clifford Takawana, of Fletcher, Oklahoma, served three tours in Vietnam. He is secretary of the Comanche Indian Veterans Association.

“Natives have long stepped up to serve their country. It goes back before there was a United States,” he told the Washington Post. “We’ve had to be warriors to defend our homeland, whether it was defending our hunting grounds from other tribes or from when nonwhites came in.”

The memorial is designed so a flame can be lit for ceremonies. Four lances will be placed around the edges of the memorial to allow veterans, family members, and tribal leaders to tie cloths for prayers and healing — a Native American tradition.